The Tokyo neighbourhood where a lot of the Call And Response scene live and where we mostly hang out is Koenji, a few stops to the west of Shinjuku. It’s got a reputation as a cool area with a lot of interesting stuff going on, but it suffers from the same problem that cool areas everywhere have in that it’s an attractive area for property developers and all the destruction they bring.
On a micro level, my wife and I moved house last year and already the two beautiful, old houses next door to us have been torn down and replaced with ugly, anonymous flats. On a far larger scale, the local authorities are using the issue of access for emergency vehicles as an excuse to rear a gaping wound through the centre of the town’s north side, destroying many of the local shops and oddball culture that thrives there. Needless to say, the form of this development was not decided in cooperation with residents or local business owners, but builders of luxury condos are happily eyeing the destruction.
As a result, I joined a small crowd of local weirdos in a protest march on Sunday, beginning with speeches by local activists and politicians, plus sympathetic voices from similar local protest movements elsewhere in Japan and throughout Asia and a star appearance from philosopher/critic Kojin Karatani. The second stage was a march together with live punk and psychedelic bands on the back of a truck, jostled and shoved by an extraordinary and highly excessive turnout of cops.
One friend of mine remarked on how the freaky fashion and style of most of the protestors wasn’t going to change any straight folk’s minds about the issue being addressed, but I suspect that’s not the point. The sound trucks that blast right wing music through Tokyo or the trucks endlessly repeating politicians’ names at election time aren’t trying to persuade anyone either. Their only function is to say, “We are here and this is our turf: notice us.” The kind of music the bands on the truck were playing is usually banished to soundproofed basements, so hearing it blasting out proudly through the streets was a powerful experience for many of the people involved. It was our time to come out of the shadows and remind the world of our existence, and maybe even power. The massing of cops had the same function: it was to make a statement of power and control over us and let the neighbourhood know that they had us outnumbered and outgunned. Towards the end of the march, as we returned to the staging ground in Koenji Central Park (for Haruki Murakami fans, that’s the park from 1Q84), the cops took to shouting out their instructions of “Three in a row, move on!” on mass, like a mantra, attempting to drown out the chants of the protestors and the band. Sound is a weapon.
The protest organisers, the Shiroto no Ran collective, pitched the protest partly as a way of protecting the central appeal of Koenji to foreign visitors, but there were few foreigners involved in the protest. That’s probably for the best, since people who are visibly (and therefore voters) really should be the most visible face of the movement. Still, some of us started plotting things the foreign community in the area could contribute by way of propaganda or fundraising. I dropped by a local art space called TKA4 that recently opened up near my house and where a protest after-party was happening, where I to the owner and some other jubilant post-protest revellers, and even if we lose, the connections these protests help forge can in the long term be their most important benefit.
The protest was also pitched very strongly as a protest against gentrification, and one of the concerns I’ve had over the years is that the presence of me and people like me here has been in part a gentrifying one. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but perhaps in internationalizing the area we’ve diluted some of its own weird culture. Hopefully, I’ve been able to mix it in with enough weird culture of my own, and it remains a guiding principle that I always try to make sure I contribute at least as much as I gain from my neighbourhood.